Ryan Trecartin’s work might strike many as passé – so 2009! – given that a new ‘generation’ of artists has emerged in the last few years, expanded the space for ‘digital’ work within the main channels of contemporary art, where Trecatin was a more lonely figure a half-decade ago. Indeed, he is now something of an establishment figure in the field, as far as such a thing exists, acting as co-curator of The New Museum’s 2015 Triennial. Indeed, some are already likely to see his work as being principally of ‘historical’ significance rather than as an active creative concern. Yet, this might in itself be symptomatic of the accelerated tempo of social media trends, where the rise and fall of critical currency mirrors the lifecycle of memes; something from which the art world is hardly insulated in an era of Contemporary Art Daily, e-flux newsfeeds, Facebook pages for exhibition openings and YouTube trailers for museum shows. Indeed, Trecartin’s work arguably has relevance beyond the half-life of fashion precisely because it directly engages – or rather over-performs – the manic, non-stop, media-stacked, multi-channeled, attention-deficient-inducing temporalities of the contemporary social-media landscape, and the patterns of subjective breakdown, proliferation and vicarious ‘rebirths’ which it demands/allows. Trecartin seems to approach the contemporary psycho-media complex by way of a sort of immanent overload – an over-identification with media-saturated modes of online subjectification, one marked by an exponential intensification of the strategies of ‘mimetic exacerbation’ familiar from Dada. His films cast the cacophonous simultaneity of images and voices familiar from early twentieth century avant-garde strategies of collage and montage in to the screen-space of pop-up windows, chat boxes, messages alerts and break-ups via Skype, in order to more intensely inhabit the emo world of online self-realization narratives, wish-fulfillment avatars and webcam cosplay. Whilst his films seem to push certain tendencies within online self-presentation and social-media relations in the direction of a claustrophobic web dystopia – a Hieronymus Bosch-like digital clusterfuck – Trecartin also importantly presents these media platforms as sites for the intensification of subjective experimentation, his films dissolving and remodeling gender and sexual identities in a way that hollows out any remnants of essentialism without evacuating power from (often traumatic) processes of subjectification.
I can still remember my first, visceral encounters with his films in 2009, fittingly experienced hunched over a laptop in bed, rather than in the more spacious confines of a gallery or museum. Even then UbuWeb (perhaps problematically) granted Trecartin a place within its archival canon as a sort of ‘instant classic’, but his work remains prescient in its hyperbolic embodiment of the relationship between contemporary digital technologies and subjectivity.